Palm Reading Perspectives

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The Professor in Psychology who Started his Career as a Palm Reader!

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Ray Hyman, Prof. in Psychology.

‘No-no!’ This is not the story of the  British ‘finger-professor’ Professor John T. Manning – who became famous for his finger length ratio studies.

This is the story of another psychologist: Professor Ray Hyman! Who started his career in psychology at Boston University (USA) with a rather remarkable experience in the field of palm reading. In a 2007 interview he told the story of how he got interested in the ‘psychology of self-deception’. As a college student, he tried to earn some money as a palm reader by read several books on the art of ‘palmistry’. However… he didn’t believe any of it!

However, young Hyman got so much positive feedback from his customers, however, that he started to think that maybe he did have psychic powers. The self-deception didn’t last long.

In a 2007 interview with Michael Shermer (the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine) prof. Ray Hyman told his story: 

“Going back in time, I did palm readings for years, and for awhile I had become a gung ho believer. I started as a skeptic but as I added things to my repertoire I became a believer. I couldn’t travel as a young magician so I was forced to play at the same places and had to come up with new things for them. This is when I took up palm reading. I watched people in the carnies and got to know them and picked up a lot of things from them. I didn’t want to do sword swallowing or anything like that, but with palm reading you could tell people all sorts of detailed things about them, like what point they had a heart attack, what age they were when they had a problem with their head, and so on. By high school, even though I was a skeptic about most things, I believed in palm reading because it seemed plausible to me since the palm is physically connected with the body.”

 “…The late Stanley Jaks convinced me to do a palm reading on someone and tell them the exact opposite of what I would normally say. So I did this. If I thought I saw in this woman’s palm that she had heart trouble at age 5, for example. I said, “well, you have a very strong heart,” that sort of thing. In this particular case, though, it was really spooky, because she just sat there poker faced. Usually I get a lot of feedback from the subject. In fact, I depend on the feedback, and this woman was giving me nothing. It was weird. I thought I bombed. But it turns out the reason she was so quiet was because she was stunned. She told me it was the most impressive reading she had ever had. So I did this with a couple more clients, and I suddenly realized that whatever was going on had nothing to do with what I said but with the presentation itself. This was one of the reasons I went into psychology—I wanted to find out how it was that people, including myself, could be so easily deceived. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I am not as confrontational as James Randi, because I actually see that “there but for the grace of God go I.”

This is how Hyman discovered that it didn’t really matter what he told the people who’s hand he read. Because in his experience he found that his clients would figure out a way to make him right.

Hyman later became an expert in understanding ‘cold reading’ and ‘subjective validation’, the words that are used today to describe the process of making claims with no basis in fact or palm reading study and having them validated as true by others.

(Unfortunately… Hyman didn’t mentioned the titles of the palmistry books that he had used as a student)

You can read here a bit more about the ‘image’ of hand reading:


Written by martijnvanmensvoort

June 8, 2011 at 3:18 am

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